Photography and writing by Adam Sawyer
The allure of a good old-fashioned road trip is something that simply does not wane. Be it cross country or cross county, the ability to set your own pace and call your own shots, as it were, has a universal appeal. What are we doing? Where are we staying? How fast or slow are we going? Strict itinerary or take it as it comes? Do we have to bring uncle Joe? You are the decider.
Autumn road trips have an appeal all their own. When the last of the summer crowds have dissipated, the final beach towel shaken free of sand, folded and stored away. And the memory of a sunburned uncle Joe thankfully begins to fade into the recesses of the mind. All replaced by moodier skies, fall colors, and “Grab a seat wherever you like and someone will be right with you.” With the glory of the fall trip in mind, we happily present a two-part Long Beach Peninsula Road Trip, with a suggested potential itinerary. But of course, feel free to take a jazz approach and improvise all you want. After all, that’s part of the wonder of the road trip.
Tokeland to the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge
If you’re coming from the north, consider taking highway 105 out of Aberdeen to Tokeland. The 101 is also quite scenic and gives you a chance to stop at Clarks Restaurant in Artic for a burger and some homemade ice cream. From the south, take highway 6, and feel free to stop at the Pitchwood Alehouse for a burger and a beer. There are no losers here.
If you’re going to be staying in Tokeland overnight lodging options aren’t too numerous but they are exceptionally eclectic, with the Shoalwater Bay Casino and the Tokeland Hotel and Restaurant serving as the bookends of that diversity. Regardless, a meal at the Tokeland Hotel is all but mandatory before heading out.
From the town of Tokeland, take the 105 east. The scenic stretch of highway traces the banks of the Willapa Bay for much of the drive before arriving in Raymond. And if you came from the north, now’s your chance to get that burger and pint at the Pitchwood, or check out Wild Man Brewing for the same. A fine non-food and beer-related stop is the utterly fascinating Northwest Carriage Museum. Seriously, whether you’re into carriages or not, it’s a unique and educational experience.
After you’ve had your fun in Raymond, continue along highway 101 towards South Bend and Long Beach. The town of South Bend offers even more excellent food and drink options with Willapa Brewing Company, Betzy’s Mexican Restaurant, and the Elixir Coffee Shop.
Heading out of South Bend, the drive achieves and maintains a high level of eye-popping scenery as it continues along Willapa Bay and crosses over and by a seemingly endless procession of sloughs, rivers, and preserves. Consider a quick side trip to Bay Center to load up on oysters of all incarnations and preparations.
After all of that driving, eating, and potentially responsible drinking, the Willapa Bay Wildlife Refuge is the perfect spot for a leg stretch. A road trip-worthy destination unto itself, the East Hills Unit of the Refuge is home to some great hiking options including the Teal Slough with its towering stands of old-growth, the boardwalk path of the Willapa Art Trail, and the densely forested Cutthroat Climb.
Next up, Part 2: The Long Beach Peninsula from Ilwaco to Leadbetter Point State Park.
Adam Sawyer is an outdoor and travel writer, photographer, published author, guide, and public speaker based in the Pacific Northwest. His work has appeared in Backpacker, Canoe & Kayak, Alaska Beyond, and British Columbia magazines. As an author, his titles include Hiking Waterfalls Oregon, and Unique Eats and Eateries: Portland, Oregon.